Intel declares open war on mobo makers

This is going to be messy

Intel LogoEvery once in a while, a company does something so incredibly bone-headed it makes your wonder what they were thinking. Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) latest attempt to piss off their partners is one of those attempts, the company just doesn’t seem to get the market they are in.

The short story, someone at Chipzilla approved an ad campaign that ‘encourages’ people to buy Intel branded motherboards. Fair enough, that seems like a reasonable enough thing to do, encourage the adoption of their own products. The problem isn’t with what Intel did, it is with how they did it, something so amateurish and clumsy that you have to wonder how this got signed off on.

The first thing is an ‘advertorial’ on Toms Hardware, you can find it here. An advertorial like this is bad enough, and when a site’s objectivity is already a topic of open discussion, own goals like this are really tough to rationalize. Did this six page ad really need to be there? Does anyone with a clue think that this will sway consumers with half a brain? Given the amount of money Intel paid for the ‘endorsement’, you have to wonder about the ROI, especially in light of the comments at the bottom.

The second is in the presentation, take a look at the email spam that THG sent out for the ‘story’, not to mention how it is presented in the ‘reviews’ section of THG. Both are pictured below for posterity. If you look at either, the fact that it is a paid spot meant to look like a story is prominently displayed here and there, but go to the page 2 of the story and see how that disappears. Worse yet, the ad spam doesn’t even mention that it is an ad, something that is not quite the ethical high road.


The newsletter spam – lets bury the links


Didn’t they know better? And ads in an ad?

Next up is the content itself, basically some really questionable statements coupled to ham-handed delivery. Intel starts off with scare tactics, implying that Intel motherboards are stable, the rest are sketchy. Intel does make rock solid boards, but given the list of BIOS bugs found in review boards by myself and other SemiAccurate writers, there is progress to be made. Lots of it. That said, the fear theme is even more prevalent on the supporting Intel site.

Intel may have a point about some really off-brand boards, but if you buy from any big name, problems like that are a thing of the past. In addition, Intel sells the only chipset for their CPUs, and they do so directly. If a vendor is not making stable boards, why is Intel supplying them in the first place? If this is a real problem, why isn’t Intel directly acting on it in a simple and easy to carry out way? Could it be that stability isn’t really a problem? Could it be this is just unethical marketing?

Then the company goes on to talk about their many innovations in the PC industry, like PCI, PCIe, USB, and several other technologies. The work Intel did here is a great thing, and has really enabled the PC industry with open standards adopted by all. Good job.

They stop short of mentioning how they are desperately trying to kill USB3 because it competes with their own (not) Light (any more) Peak bus, aka Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is obsolete, technically dubious, vastly more expensive than USB3, and offers no advantage to the user, but lots of disadvantages. The biggest problem is that Thunderbolt is proprietary, so Intel can use it to force peripheral vendors to pay them huge fees while locking out competition. It is the exact opposite of what the company is claiming in the ‘article’.

Worse yet, the company claims it’s motherboards are at the forefront of innovation because of these standards. Intel makes solid boards. Intel makes reliable boards. Intel makes feature free boards that are about as exciting as a computer reading a phone book through a scratchy speaker. Intel does good work, and rarely has problems, but I can’t think of a single board that the company made in the last decade that qualifies as exciting. Skulltrail comes close, but drivers ended up sinking that prematurely.

If you go to any store, trade show, or geek gathering, you will see a huge variety of motherboards from big name vendors, almost all of which have richer feature sets than the Intel branded boards. From tweaking software to mouse driven EFI (a standard that Intel developed and championed) ‘BIOS’es, PCIe bridges, multiple PCIe slots, high-end sound cards, network accelerators, LED POST readouts, board mounted switches, and countless other features, it is a rare Intel board that has one, much less several.

Motherboards from the board makers, Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, Asrock and many more, it is a rare board that doesn’t have at least a few. The difference is night and day. Intel makes things that work and will not get you in trouble if you buy one for the office. For the rest, there is healthy competition for features, price, and aesthetics. Intel’s features claim is a huge stretch at best, and then only if you are feeling charitable.

Intel goes on to claim the exact opposite. Page 1 says, “Another Intel makes sure that its motherboards are at the forefront of innovation and reliability is through helping to pioneer and ratify industry standards.” Page 2 says, “As mentioned, Intel supports a wide array of motherboard solutions, each sporting a different collection of features catering to a somewhat different audience. In the past, Intel has occasionally been accused of being slow to adopt cutting edge features, and this has been true in a sense. Especially for business buyers, Intel wants to provide a suitable amount of time to make sure that a given feature is going to be widely supported by the market (e.g., integrating eSATA ports when there are plenty of eSATA drives). Integrating features too soon may only add cost, complicate designs, and add unnecessary support concerns without any commensurate, real world benefit to the user.”

OK, so unless my grasp of English and logic just failed entirely, Intel is saying they make the technologies because that is what keeps boards, theirs specifically, on the forefront, but they don’t put the technology in, and you are better off for it. Their boards are still at the forefront as long as you take every page in this ‘advertorial’ separately.

Then they go on to say that one must have feature is USB3. Remember, Intel invented this technology, but is now the only major x86 chipset vendor without a USB3 capable chipset. That doesn’t line up with the claims, nor do their attempts to stifle it. Thunderbolt is, for some odd reason, not mentioned as a ‘must have’ technology though. Short story, would you rather have a TPM in your system or a usable BIOS with lots of features? Before you answer, remember that although a TPM may cost more, almost no home user software uses it.

Intel then goes on to talk about their reliability and testing methods, probably the best in the industry. No qualms there, with the possible exception of some dedicated server makers and niche high uptime companies, they are unlikely to have a challenger here. But as we mentioned earlier, when was the last time you had an unstable board from a big name player? Mentioning Cougar Point would probably not help Intel’s case either, so we won’t.

Page four is all about form factors, and how Intel claims that a mini-ITX board with half-height port blocks is innovative. If you attended any Computex shows in the last decade, you would see many small form factor PCs along side some truly odd shaped ones, none of which came from Intel. Via, the company that made the mini-ITX standard, was showing off credit card sized x86 boards in 2006, many times slimmer than what Intel is claiming. Innovative form factors with Intel chips are a good thing, but Intel is way out of line claiming leadership with their branded mobos here. Way way out of line, even counting BTX.

On the next page, Intel goes on to talk about support, and Intel has one of the most comprehensive channel programs out there bar none. They probably have the best support for setup and configuration too, and for some, this is a very key feature. The channel/white box builder market really likes Intel boards for this very reason. The problem is that the end user doesn’t have the same love for easy volume configuration, those consumers tend to buy on price and features. Intel boards do not lead either of those categories, but Intel’s channel support is truly second to none.

The claim on that page about warranties is much more dubious though. Intel says that most of their boards have two year warranties, and some embedded parts have three. Last time I looked, Gigabyte has a three year minimum across the board. MSI offers a 3 year warranty in North America and Asus offers 3 or 5 year warranty depending upon mobo model. Compared to no-names, Intel is better, but that isn’t the case with brand name board makers.

Worse yet, Intel claims their XLP program guarantees that boards are replaced exactly for at least 24 months. This is a good thing, but what about non-XLP SKUs, IE the ones you buy? Intel has no real support network, and doesn’t RMA and repair boards, they just replace dead ones. Most big mobo makers have support networks and repair center in each sales region, and will fix dead boards in the majority of cases. The one example I can think of is Gigabyte’s Tibetan repair center, but others are easy enough to find.

If you are more remote than that, a mobo from a ‘top 5’ vendor may be problematic, but that is an acceptable risk. With Intel branded boards, what happens when they need to replace a non-XLP board after it is EOL’d? What happens if they have to replace one after a socket transition? You may end up with a better board that doesn’t fit your CPU, GPU, RAM, or other much more expensive components.

In summary, Intel makes some of the most reliable and solid boards in the industry, no question there. Intel also has some of the best support for channel and white box integrators too, and has pioneered many, if not most, of the standards that we take for granted. They do not however make boards that consumers would actually want. Reliable, dull, and feature sparse are not something you tout when making a sales pitch.

The last problem is not with the articles, the presentation, or methodologies, and is by far the most serious issue. That problem is what Intel is claiming, and who they are now competing against. Intel is saying that their own boards are better, more reliable, and somehow more feature filled than the ones their partners make. Please note, these partners are some of their largest customers too. Intel is trashing the very same partners that sell their boards by the millions for an incremental gain in sales.

Make no doubt about it, Intel just declared war with the OEMs, and several that SemiAccurate talked to see this as the first step in Intel cutting them out completely. It is being done in the most crass and ham-handed way, something sure to, well, piss all the board makers off. There will of course be pushback, something that tends to show up in sales, and that can be done very subtly.

Intel’s power grab here could not have come at a worse time, the exact same day AMD launched its Llano chip. It is the first competitive laptop part form Chimpzilla is a long time, and the desktop version is soon to follow. A quarter or so later comes Bulldozer, and Intel is facing a rather rejuvenated AMD. If any board makers were on the fence about supporting the new AMD lineup, the final decision was just made for them. Competition leads to industry health, lack of it leads to power grabs.

As someone who has been watching the technology and PC world for a long time, this whole affair makes my head hurt. From venue to presentation, from claims to reality, and finally culminating in a clumsy advertorial, things could not have been handled in a worse way. Intel just made their largest partners into competitors, forcing them to back in to the arms, or is that ARMs, of a resurgent competition.

Intel can make boards, but they can’t replace the support networks that the partners have in place. Instead of opening subtly and carefully, Intel did the sales equivalent of showing up at a cathedral waving sparklers around while wearing a rainbow clown wig. And nothing else. This isn’t going to end well. Oh yes it is, Intel doesn’t make Intel boards, Foxconn does.S|A


Asus says that in the North American market they have a standard 3-year warranty and with any board in the Pro and up series we also offer advanced replacement options so the system is only down for the switch out time between boards. Our TUF series offers a standard 5-year warranty plus advanced replacement.

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate